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Democrats Won’t Seek to Boost New Jersey Budget, Sweeney Says

Democrats who control New Jersey’s Legislature won’t seek to increase Governor Chris Christie’s $29.3 billion budget as they make changes and approve it by the June 30 deadline, Senate President Stephen Sweeney said.

Christie, a Republican, will get the four votes he needs from Senate Democrats to approve his spending proposal, Sweeney said in a telephone interview today. Democrats want to avoid a repeat of the 2006 budget impasse that shut New Jersey parks, courts, beaches and casinos for a week, he said.

“It doesn’t mean we like it,” Sweeney, a Democrat from West Deptford, said about Christie’s budget. “But I don’t think anyone really has the fire for a shutdown this year.”

Democrats, who control the Senate 23-17 and the Assembly 47-33, will seek to restore Christie’s cuts to college tuition grants and stop his plan to move the State Commission of Investigation from the legislative to the executive branch, Sweeney said. He declined to give more examples of changes they will request. No budget deal has been reached and no talks have been scheduled, he said.

Christie, who took office Jan. 19, also will get the eight votes he needs from Democrats in the Assembly to pass his budget, Sweeney said. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver’s spokesman Tom Hester didn’t immediately return a telephone message left at his Trenton office.

Millionaires Tax

Democrats wanted to use a one-year surcharge on annual incomes of $1 million or more to raise $637 million and restore property-tax rebates for seniors that Christie proposed eliminating in his budget. Their proposal passed the Legislature on May 20 and was vetoed by Christie. Democrats lack the two-thirds majority needed to override a Christie’s veto.

Christie, 47, proposed suspending property-tax rebates, skipping the state’s $3 billion pension contribution and reducing aid to schools and towns by more than $1.2 billion in his budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. His plan would close a $10.7 billion deficit without increasing taxes.

“We’ve had painful budgets in the past, but this is a budget that is really going to hurt people,” Sweeney said.

Christie’s spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said the governor’s administration expects to hold discussions with legislative leaders from both parties before the final plan is introduced.

“It seems clear that sentiment has shifted so that most, if not all of those involved, realize that we must spend within our depleted means,” Drewniak said in an e-mail. “We have every expectation that we will have a budget in place on time.”

Sweeney and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean said Republicans will take the lead in drafting the budget bills.

“There really aren’t any better options than what the governor has laid out,” said Kean, a Republican from Westfield.

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